Featured Traveller: Heather Raftery – BJJ Globetrotters

heather raftery bjj

Heather Raftery BJJ

Age: 33

Belt: Black

Profession: Freelancer

How many years in BJJ: 11 in January!

Other martial arts: Doughjitsu – the art of sneaking into the freezer at night and picking out all the cookie dough pieces from ice cream container while everyone is sleeping.

Where do you live: Mother Earth

Where are you originally from: Tucson, Arizona (USA)

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: I’ve lived in a VW bus for nearly two cumulative years (total, with breaks here and there), which I painted myself and named Bonnie Clyde. I’m currently staying in it for a month while training in San Diego, preparing for No-Gi Worlds. I used to ride horses competitively in an equestrian sport called “cutting” (my dad is a horse trainer and former professional bull rider) and I was once a world champion in that. Hung up my spurs in college and then started wrasslin’ people. I have two fur babies: Mr. Fleabags and Gooby the Goblin Hunter.

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
Growing up riding horses, we always traveled to other states to compete. When I started training Jiu Jitsu, it was more of the same. In college, I discovered my love for traveling internationally – visiting new, exotic places and experiencing cultures wildly different, and yet in many ways remarkably similar to my own. Luckily, I started Jiu Jitsu at a time when it had already found roots in most major cities around the world, so my gi and rashie always had a place in my travel bag, wherever I went.

Tell us about your most recent trip and your upcoming trips – where have you been and where are you going?
I’ve trained Jiu Jitsu on six continents (Antarctica, I’m coming for you!). My most recent international trip was to Thailand to reunite with one of my very first training partners, Alex Schild, now a Jiu Jitsu coach at Tiger Muay Thai. From there I went straight to Australia, where I trained for over a week with Lachlan and Livia Giles and their awesome (and hilarious team) at Absolute MMA. Then I was guest instructor at the incredible 4-day Australian Girls in Gis camp, put on by my good friend Jess Fraser, at a real campsite waaaaay out in the boonies with no Wi-Fi. In all, it was definitely one of the funnest trips of my life. I’m hoping to plan a U.S. road trip in the Bonnie Clyde for 2020. I want to try to see as much of my home country as I can (though I’m sure I’ll break down and get stranded half a dozen times).

Heather Raftery BJJ

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
The excitement of not knowing what’s around the next bend, what you’ll be doing that day and the next, or who you’ll meet along the way. It’s cliche, but every day really is an adventure. You become addicted to that cocktail of adrenaline and dopamine. And with traveling, not only do you escape the mundane, but also the comfort of a predictable routine, both of which stunt personal and spiritual growth.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
There have been several times in my Jiu Jitsu travels that I’ve become incredibly close to a group of fellow practitioners, despite the relatively short time I was there. For instance, several years ago when I was a purple belt, my work sent me to Colombia for about a month, where I trained at Affinity Colombia in Bogotá. They were some of the most warm and welcoming group of people I’ve ever come across, from the very second I stepped on the mats. Even to this day I still receive lovely messages from my Colombian family. This has happened several other times, around the U.S. and internationally; where I’ve met people that I instantly connect with, despite any cultural differences or language barriers. Some I could swear that I’ve met in a past life.

Heather Raftery BJJ

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
I’m continually amazed at how much people will go out of their way to help a complete stranger. In this day and age, it’s easy to get discouraged about the fate of the human race, but traveling renews your belief in humanity.

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
Absolutely. The less I have to spend on the nuts and bolts of traveling (airfare, transport, accommodations), the more I can spend on the experiences. Of course, #vanlife is probably the most budget you can get, but unless I have unlimited time to get there (the Bonnie Clyde’s top speed is 55mph/88.5kmh), it’s not the most convenient at times. If I’m traveling internationally, I usually try to get the cheapest tickets I can… risking multiple, long layovers, red-eye flights, and traveling on low-demand days. I also try to tap into the local Jiu Jitsu community wherever I’m going, as a kind-hearted jiujiteiro will usually offer rides and sometimes accommodation. If that happens, I always try my best to repay the favor in whatever way I can.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Be up for anything, and don’t sweat the small stuff. When you’re up for anything, you’ll always come home with the best stories to tell. As for the second part, shit will always happen when you’re traveling. That’s the nature of the beast. Learning to recognize them as small bumps in the road will keep you from expending unnecessary emotion and energy worrying or getting upset about them, and help you become a more flexible, easy-going traveler… and a more zen human being.

Heather Raftery BJJ

 

Featured affiliated academy: Bohol Island Jiu Jitsu

Where is the gym located?
Bohol Island Jiu Jitsu is located in Tagbilaran City, Bohol, which is right smack at the center of the 7,107 islands in the Philippines. Our island is a very touristy place, with a lot of nature and great beaches, and the smallest monkey in the world – the Tarsier (our logo) – can be found only on our island. Currently we’re the only BJJ school here.

How many people train there?
In total we have around 20 members registered, but the consistent numbers we get are about 50% of that.

Is the gym growing – if so by how many new members each month or year?
Since most of our members are students, and we don’t have a lot of job opportunities here, people tend to move to other bigger islands in the Philippines so once they graduate. So to answer the question – we are growing, but people also leave every now and then.

What are the highest and lowest belt grades training?
White belts, blue belts, and purple belts.

When did the gym open?
The gym started in 2014 in an old Taekwondo gym. Since then we’ve moved to a newer location.

Some facts about you:

Name: Jay Uy
Age: 31
Belt: Purple
Profession: Manager
Years in BJJ: 11
Other martial arts: Boxing
Currently living in: Tagbilaran City, Bohol
Originally from: Tagbilaran City, Bohol

Please tell us the story of how your gym came into existence:
I started training BJJ in 2008 in Cebu City, where I attended university. Every now and then when I went back to my hometown, I would teach and train with my brother, who had also started training in Manila under a different team. I would seek out MMA gyms and other martial arts gym here in Bohol just to be able to train. On the weekends, I’d take a 2-hour boat ride to Cebu to train with my old team and try to keep learning from my coach there. In 2013, when I was still a blue belt, a big earthquake hit my island and a lot of the buildings got damaged. A year afterwards, in 2014, I learned that another blue belt from New York was in town and was actually based here. So I tried to reach out, knowing he was teaching at a local Taekwondo gym here. After a few months training with each other and a few beginners, he decided to name the team Bohol Island Jiu Jitsu.

Tell us about the people that train in the gym – who are they?
Most of the guys that train with us are from here – they really started from scratch with me, John, and my brother Ton. The majority are students that go to school in the morning and train with us at night, like Julliver, Vincent, Arman, Ali, and Milven. Some of our senior members like JM, Luther and Vic have jobs during the day, so most of our classes are at night only.

Why do they train?
They really do love Jiu Jitsu and enjoy learning from each other. I guess for the younger members it’s for fitness and self confidence. Our older members would say it’s such a big stress relief from work as well.

What are some of the challenges of running a BJJ gym in general and in your location specifically?
For me it’s a passion project. I really enjoy teaching and spreading BJJ, and learning from different people, so I’m not in it for the business side. However, paying the bills can get pretty stressful at times as well. When people leave to pursue a career elsewhere, we also lose members. Losing people can be pretty frustrating. On the other hand, I’m happy they started with us and when I see them do well in competitions in other countries. Also, in our area time can move pretty slow, and some of our members can get pretty lax at times when it comes to training. Especially if comp season is over.

How do you see the future for BJJ in your area?
Hopefully, other teams or gyms can start as well in order to have more BJJ spread out in the other towns. Economically our city is growing, and population also increases along with that. When jobs start pouring in, people that have trained on other islands might want to come work here as well, and either train with us or start their own schools. I see a ton of potential here. We don’t have a black belt yet on our island, and maybe one day if not me, one of my students would be the first home grown Boholano black belt.

What’s the best thing about your gym?
Our gym is just a small gym, but between me, John, and my brother Ton, we have a total of 33 years of experience between us. John started in 2008 in New York – he has his own style of teaching. My brother Ton also started in 2008 with our current Professor, Ali Sulit in Manila, and he incorporates a lot of the ATOS-style techniques. Our gym also has a lot of tourists that drop by every now and then to train with us. You never know when a group of 3 people from Australia will show up at the exact same time a Swiss purple belt said he would drop by to train as well. Plus the beach is just a few minutes away from us too. :)

What would you recommend Globetrotters to see in your area apart from the inside of your gym?
Panglao Island is where all the best resorts are – we have world class beaches there. Also a great spot to try and learn diving, or hop on a boat to go visit other smaller islands. Bohol can offer tons of dive spots around the island. We have beautiful reefs and the diversity of marine life here will amaze you.

The Chocolate Hills are a couple of hours drive from Panglao or the city. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site where 1,260 hills turn brown in the summer season and resemble Hershey kisses. To get there you can either join a tour or drive, but on your way there be sure to also visit the Loboc River cruise where you can have lunch, and the man-made forest in Loboc and Bilar towns.

The Tarsier Sanctuary is also a must-visit if you’re here. The monkeys are endangered, and although some can be found in the wild, the sanctuary is the best place to find and learn about these nocturnal creatures.

You can also rent a motorbike or go on a countryside tour, where you never know when you’ll stumble upon exotic caves, stunning rice fields, fireflies in mangroves, very old churches, or great views from mountaintops.

Thanks for sharing with us! If you’d like to pay a visit to Bohol Island Jiu Jitsu, you can find them here.

Featured Traveller: Stevie Antoniou

Age: 24

Belt: Brown

Profession: Freelance photographer and filmmaker

How many years in BJJ: 8

Other martial arts: Nope

Where do you live: In Stockholm, but I’m traveling more than I’m at home. :)

Where are you originally from: Stockholm, Sweden

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: Parents are Greek/Irish and Swedish/Estonian.

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
Honestly, I’ve always met inspiring people when traveling, and that’s what keeps me going. Combining it with Jiu Jitsu is perfect because you get to meet locals wherever you are and make friends in a matter of minutes of stepping on the mats.

Tell us about your most recent trip and your upcoming trips – where have you been and where are you going?
Well, if this year’s travel counts as recent then I have 17 trips to tell you about… Go to my Instagram for all that. These past two months I’ve been to France, Poland, Arizona, and Oregon. Currently in a hammock between two palm trees in the Caribbean. I’m in St. Barth for a month and then I’m going home just before Christmas. I’m heading to Asia in mid-January for a month or five. We’ll see haha

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
The sense of adventure and the fact that I always learn a lot about myself. Whether it’s trying new things, exploring on my own, or meeting inspiring people with different views on life.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
Man, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are. Put on a gi and a smile and you are welcomed like family in most places. I was on a train in Portugal a few years ago and I was with my girlfriend at the time. We were there for a holiday and we definitely didn’t think to pack our gis. Before getting off the train, I see a poster with a quite famous face on it. Everything is in Portuguese so I can’t read what it says, but there’s a number on it. I call and find out that Royce Gracie is doing a two-day seminar that upcoming weekend. The guy says we are welcome to come, so we show up and it’s me, my girl, and 40 portuguese dudes. I was a blue belt at the time, and she had just started training. We didn’t have anything to train in, but after a day of asking around and searching everywhere for a gi, we found this guy who sold us two gis out of his trunk in a shady parking lot. When the first half of the seminar was finished, I’m talking to another participant and Royce joins the conversation and invites us to come to the beach with them. Long story short, we ended up hanging out with Royce Gracie and his friends that whole weekend. Beach trip, a few meals, and even the club haha. I can’t think of any other sport that this would happen in. Does the random guy who trains soccer get to go stand-up paddleboarding with Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

I have plenty of stories like this, but all I can say is that combining traveling and BJJ is an awesome time, and everyone should give it a shot.

 

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
How easy it is! Once you get in to it the world isn’t as big and scary as you think.

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
I like a bit of both. In general, I don’t spend a lot of money and try to find good value. I don’t mind spending €50 on a killer breakfast buffet every once in a while either though. When I’m at home and have a trip planned, I’m extra particular on not spending money on stupid things. Having something to look forward to keeps me motivated to save money for that specific trip. You don’t need that cigarette or caramel frappuccino with extra cream ;).

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Just freaking go. Book that ticket, make that call. Whatever it is. Experience is more valuable than most paydays. I’ve never been on a trip that made me regret going or spending that money.

Featured affiliated academy: Sporto Klubas Laumžirgis


About the gym:

Where is the gym located?
We rent 300 m2 full-time in the southern part of Vilnius, Lithuania. Here you can see the precise location of our gym, Laumžirgis (which means “dragonfly” in Lithuanian): https://goo.gl/maps/DyP5Y6tSDmo. It’s not easy to find us when you’re there in person though – just contact us through Facebook and we’ll send you a detailed how-to-find-us guide.

How many people train there?
It varies – sometimes greatly – depending on the time of the year. We had around 40 people show up at least once this January, for instance; some only have time to train few times per month, whereas others train consistently for 6+ hours per week. We consider ourselves an MMA club; about half of the people train Jiu Jitsu and wrestling, while others are only interested in boxing and striking, so we separate the classes and then people can build their own schedule based on what they enjoy.

Is the gym growing – if so by how many new members each month or year?
We’ve seen slow but steady growth over the past few years. In the early days it wasn’t uncommon to only have 2-4 people in the class. Now that we’re open to the public, we usually get 10-20 new people showing up each year when the new season starts, and several of them stay and become long-term members, which is what we’re looking for. Jiu Jitsu and combat spots in general is not something you can really learn in a month, or even a year.

What are the highest and lowest belt grades training?
In our Jiu-Jitsu classes we have blue and white belts. We also have higher belts visiting, but because they’re visitors they don’t count in our statistics.

When did the gym open?
We started as a group of enthusiasts interested in training together in 2007. Our club, Laumžirgis, was officially founded in 2009. We started renting a place full-time in 2014, and moved to our current location in 2017.

Some facts about you:

Name: Irmantas Radavičius
Age: 33
Belt: Blue
Profession: I teach Computer Science at Vilnius University
Years in BJJ: My first class was in 2007
Other martial arts: I started with Aikido back in 1999, tried a lot of different things over the years, and finally settled with MMA. Meaning, one accepts what is useful and rejects what is useless, and wants to be efficient in all ranges and areas of combat.
Currently living in: Vilnius, Lithuania
Originally from: Also Vilnius, Lithuania

Please tell us the story of how your gym came into existence:
The aikido community I started with introduced me to martial arts, for which I will always be grateful. However, that community was like a cult, with lots of hierarchy, bowing, and rituals, which is ultimately very at odds with what I’m about.

I was looking for a community where I would feel happy. I was also interested in self-defense and functional martial arts, since I wanted to feel safer and more confident; able to trust that what I do actually works. Aikido did not give me that, so I quit in 2006 and went through many clubs looking for somewhere to belong. Sometimes I didn’t like the teaching style, sometimes the community was a bit off, sometimes the techniques were very strange, and since I was a student at the time sometimes the classes were just too expensive.

Thus me and few other guys started training on our own. My first experience with Jiu Jitsu was in 2007, when I went to a grappling seminar by Ričardas Piepolis, a famous grappling coach in Lithuania. A lot of what we did after that was gleaned from articles, blogs, books, and videos. I remember watching Matt Thornton’s video series, as well as numerous others. Jiu Jitsu was just not really present in Lithuania as it is now. I was reading Matt Kirtley’s and Christian Graugart’s blogs, and when they announced they were going to Estonia to teach a training camp in 2009, I knew I had to be there. This is when we first started travelling to different places for training, and where we first met Priit Mihkelson, a then-purple belt from Estonia (now a black belt) who we now consider our head coach and mentor. From that point onwards, everything changed.

Tell us about the people that train in the gym – who are they?
We’ve had people from 15 to 56 years old, guys and girls (sadly only a few of them, but their number is growing as well), most of whom are hobbyists training for various personal reasons. Many of them work in IT-related fields, which, given my own profession, is not at all surprising! The majority of new members are brought to our club by friends.

Why do they train?
People in our club train for various reasons (social, safety, health, fun, etc.) that tend to change over time. Most newcomers come because of self-defense, or because they want to try something new and maybe find a new hobby. Once they decide to stay and are there for a long time, however, I think it evolves into something different – it is always the case that they simply like the activity and the community, and all the benefits those two things bring into their life.

What are some of the challenges of running a BJJ gym in general and in your location specifically?
Since we’re a small gym we do most of the things ourselves, including book-keeping, cleaning, repairs, etc. We don’t have many staff members, and that limits us since there are only so many things that can be done per day, and only so many classes that one can run and teach. Retaining our members thus becomes really important, as otherwise we have to start learning/teaching everything from scratch again, and at the same time it’s very hard to lose a member whom we consider a necessary part of the community. There are many activities in Vilnius, and it’s not uncommon for people simply to decide not to pursue martial arts anymore and take up something else. The long grind is sadly not for everybody.

How do you see the future for BJJ in your area?
BJJ has been constantly growing here over the past few years. When we started there were no black belts at all in Lithuania; now there are. I suspect and hope that BJJ will continue to grow and will also continue to evolve in every sense, including techniques, coaching methods etc.

What’s the best thing about your gym?
Unarguably, it’s the community that we have. It’s very important to have a space where you feel welcome and safe, and it becomes even more important if you train martial arts, which by definition is a risky and dangerous activity. No building and no mat space can ensure that by itself; it is always about the people. It’s the students that empower any coach and make his work worthwhile, it’s the training partners who help you get better, and are there when you succeed and you struggle, and so on. Personally, I consider the people I train with to be some of my best friends that I’m happy to have.

What would you recommend Globetrotters to see in your area apart from the inside of your gym?
Vilnius is a great city. If you’re into museums and architecture, we have our Old Town and some sights that date back to the Middle Ages. Lithuania is a small country, meaning travel distances are relatively small – we have beautiful nature and some places to visit in the countryside, too. If you’re into food, there are many cuisines in Vilnius. If you want to try more traditional Lithuanian food, try some dishes from potatoes and/or meat, and we have good beer too. If you’re into overall leisure there aren’t many things that you can’t find in Vilnius; we have big commercial and leisure centers, with restaurants, cafes, cinemas, and lots of athletic and fun activities.

Really, come to visit, and when you do you are most welcome to come to our gym and say hi!

Thanks for sharing with us! If you’d like to pay a visit to Sporto Klubas Laumžirgis, you can find them here.

Featured Traveller: Liz Corso

Let’s start out with some quick facts about you…

Age: 35
Belt: Blue
Profession: Teacher
How many years in BJJ: Two
Other martial arts: None
Where do you live: Paris, France
Where are you originally from: New Jersey, USA
Other fun or curious information you’d like to share: I do mail art, collages, and stop-motion animation. I also get really happy when I encounter a 3-pronged fork.

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
I’ve always been a traveller. I crave new perspectives and enjoy solving problems (how do I get vegetarian food in this strange language?!). I left the US as soon as I finished school, and have since lived in half a dozen different countries and travelled to well over 50. I accidentally stumbled upon BJJ while living in Taiwan and immediately became obsessed. My first coach, Daniel Reid, is a Globetrotter, and he introduced me to the Globetrotters network, which makes it so much easier!

Tell us about your most recent trip and your upcoming trips – where have you been and where are you going?
I just got back from the Winter Camp in Wagrain and it was amazing! I always meet so many great new people at Globetrotters camps. My next trip is back to the US to visit friends and family. There’s a 10th Planet gym near my folks, which is a fun change from what I’m used to in Paris. Before I set off for the summer, I plan to revisit Prague in the spring. I hope to add a couple cities around that trip… possibly Vienna and Brno. We’ll see!

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
I’ve met so many great people training in different places. Some of them have gone on to become really good friends, some have even shaped who I am as a person. When you leave your comfort zone, you learn. Sometimes it’s painful (we all remember our first couple BJJ classes!), but learning is always rewarding.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
In addition to meeting great people, having lots of fun crazy nights, experiencing new cultures, and trying new things, travelling helps a lot for BJJ. Sometimes I’ll be having trouble with a particular aspect of my game, and this is often the best time to travel somewhere new and train. Fresh perspectives can really help to get you out of a rut… both in your BJJ game and sometimes life in general!

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
Realizing how far a smile and patience can take you. Keeping my cool has helped me out of many many tough situations. For example, after living in Berlin for a couple years, I got tired of the weather and decided to do a motorcycle trip from Berlin to Bamako, Mali. Actually, I didn’t have an end destination… that’s where I ended up selling the motorcycle for plane tickets to Asia – but that’s a different story.

Long story short, I had entered Guinea illegally. Not because I had wanted to, but because…OK, short story…that’s how it was. When crossing the border into Mali, I ran into trouble: I was illegally in the country with a foreign vehicle. This being Africa, the border guard was eager to cut a deal: $100. The only problem was that 1.) I didn’t want to spend $100, and 2.) I had sewn my larger bills into the waist seam of my pants and I only had a 1 dollar bill on me. Not losing my cool, staying friendly, and having patience worked to my advantage. It took a lot of smiling and A LOT of patience, but in the end, I parted with my $1 and was on my merry way.

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
Staying and training with a Globetrotters host not only helps you to meet a great new person, but also cuts down on accomodation fees. In the summers, I quit the city for good. I sublet my apartment and explore around Europe in my VW camping van (yeah, the sexy kind). I love the freedom it affords and I only wild camp, so it doesn’t cost much. It’s really nice, but the van doesn’t have a shower. That’s where training fits in perfectly! I find a nearby club with showers to train at. I still go to laundromats to wash my gis, but nogi gear can easily be hand washed.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Smile. Be open to people and experiences and things will happen.

Featured affiliated academy: Positive Jiu-Jitsu Buenos Aires

positive jiu-jitsu buenos aires

Where is the gym located?
Our gym is located in First Club, in the neighborhood of Caballito at the heart of Buenos Aires city, Argentina.

How many people train there?
We’re about 50 people training in the academy between the competitors and the beginners.

Is Positive Jiu-Jitsu Buenos Aires growing – if so by how many new members each month or year?
Last January we started a new course, “Introduction to Jiu-Jitsu”, where we focus on the basics and the self-defense point of view, which added 10 new members!

What are the highest and lowest belt grades training?
There are total newbies that are starting their martial arts trip, jiu-jitsu newbies with background in other martial arts, and on the other side we have professional jiu-jitsu athletes and mma fighters, most of them black belts.

When did the gym open?
We started Positive Jiu-Jitsu in May 2018.

Some facts about you:

Name: Pablo Peirone / Walter Alamo / Francisco Cuneo
Age: 37 / 31 / 34
Belt: Black / black / black
Academy: Positive Jiu-Jitsu Buenos Aires
Profession: Jiu-jitsu professor / digital marketing specialist / financial consultant
Years in BJJ: 12
Other martial arts: Judo, wrestling
Currently living in: Buenos Aires, Argentina and New York, USA
Originally from: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Please tell us the story of how your gym came into existence:
We conducted our training in Jiu Jitsu under the tutelage of Ricardo De La Riva, under whom we graduated to black belt in 2016.
In 2018, we decided to start a new path, under the name of Positive Jiu Jitsu, registering the academy in the main federations and achieving independence in that way. In just 2 years we’ve reached important podiums in the main tournaments (IBJJF Worlds, UAEJJ Grand Slam, and AJP Tour).

Tell us about the people that train in Positive Jiu-Jitsu Buenos Aires – who are they?
They’re regular people with regular lives – students, moms, dads, teenagers, athletes, and professional fighters. We welcome every type of person, and give them through Jiu-jitsu a place and a vehicle to walk through life and express themselves in their own unique ways.

Why do they train?
The common aspect that defines the people that train at Positive is the love for Jiu-jitsu and the aim to be better and overcome our challenges and difficulties.

What are some of the challenges of running a BJJ gym in general and in your location specifically?
The greatest challenges are the sedentary way of life we have as a society, and then the anxiety of “being good” at any activity in just a few classes. Jiu-jitsu is really difficult, and it demands discipline and consistency. In our area specifically, the economic situation of the country is tough, so sometimes people have a hard time finding a way to pay for tuition.

How do you see the future for BJJ in your area?
Argentina has an excellent level of Jiu-Jitsu, with a lot of top guys getting good results on the international circuit. I see a very bright future for Argentine Jiu-Jitsu in general. Just in Buenos Aires city you can find dozens of academies lead by black belts spreading the word all over the country and the globe.

What’s the best thing about your gym?
First Club is a great place. Besides Jiu-Jitsu there are other activities and sports, suitable for all and family-oriented. There’s a gym where you can complement your Jiu-Jitsu by lifting weights. And we have sauna in the men’s locker room as well as in the women’s; great for relaxing the body after a tough training session.

What would you recommend Globetrotters to see in your area apart from the inside of your gym?
Buenos Aires is one of the capital cities of the world and one of the largest cities in South America, with a European flavor.
There are tons of touristic attractions such as La Boca, tango lessons, and Argentine BBQ. Buenos Aires is also the city with more cafés in the world, with different options that range from the more traditional like Café Tortoni to the more modern and younger styles in Palermo. Besides that, you have the connections to the other Argentine provinces and a great public transport system.

Thanks for sharing with us! If you’d like to pay a visit to Positive Jiu-Jitsu Buenos Aires, you can find them here.

Featured Traveller: Pat Divilly

Age: 32

Belt: Purple

Profession: Speaker and Coach

How many years in BJJ: 3 and a half years

Other martial arts: A little Judo as a teenager, alongside boxing, Muay Thai and MMA. Now that I’m old I stick with BJJ!

Where do you live: Galway, Ireland

Where are you originally from: Limerick, Ireland

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: I’m a speaker and podcaster in the area of personal development. Have a huge passion for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and my work, have done a number of high-altitude mountain expeditions, and in recent years have gotten into yoga and surfing.

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
I trained martial arts as a teen and loved it, but didn’t have the work ethic to really succeed in my younger years. When I “grew up” I gave up everything to chase financial success and status. I spent 10 years growing a business, woke up at 28 having ticked all the boxes I thought I needed to tick, and still didn’t feel fulfilled day to day. At that point I knew it was time to go back to martial arts, and I took up BJJ.

Training does a huge amount for me in terms of supporting my mental and physical health, providing community, and giving me a chance to find a state of flow daily.

Travel has been a staple of my life for the last number of years. I feel blessed to get to see the world, and feel I learn more about myself when I’m outside of my comfortable environment than I ever could being in one place.

Tell us about your most recent trip and your upcoming trips – where have you been and where are you going?
I’m currently in Zanzibar for a few days after climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for the second time. I brought a group of 21 clients to climb to the highest point in Africa, and now I’m getting a little down time before heading home to Ireland.

My next plan is to go to Bali for a month in April to surf, train Jiu Jitsu, and work on new content for my future seminars and workshops. I work in the area of personal development, and so I like to be constantly tweaking my content and taking on new experiences to ensure I’m “practicing what I preach”.

I tend to work intensely at home and in the UK delivering lots of workshops for 2-3 months, then go away for a month of travel and new experiences.

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
I love it all! The uncertainty, the break from routine, the chance to be completely anonymous and to see the world through a different lens. I love seeing a new snapshot of the world, a new culture, meeting new people and seeing how different but similar we are. I love the possibility and the randomness of showing up somewhere with no expectation and no plan. I love meeting new parts of myself through adversity, challenge and unpredictable situations and experiences.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
I’ve been welcomed at BJJ gyms all over the world and treated like family, climbed some of the world’s highest mountains, completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training in Thailand with no previous experience.

I’ve spoken at a youth leadership conference in Nepal and subsequently funded a school out there. I’ve gotten to run a triathlon with my business hero Richard Branson and his family, and visited his private Island in the Virgin Islands.

I’ve gotten laughed at and pointed at by every person in the nightclub in Tanzania for being the only non-local (or maybe it was my dancing?!). I’ve lost passports and credit cards in South America, been surrounded by an angry mob in Russia and climbed snow capped mountains in Poland in my shorts with Wim Hof.

 

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
Fresh in mind, I think Kilimanjaro in Tanzania has surprised me the two times I’ve been there. I used to own a gym and would encourage clients to work toward goals such as 5km, 10km and half marathons. Then I decided organising and bringing a group to Kilimanjaro would be a great personal challenge for my clients.

In the back of my mind, I thought it would be overly commercial and wouldn’t feel like an authentic experience, but on both trips I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the energy and passion the guides and porters continue to bring to the mountain.

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
I’m pretty laid back in general which makes it easier to budget for trips. I don’t like spending money on hotels, as I feel all I need is a bed or a sleeping bag and I’m good! I can be a little last-minute booking my flights, which probably ends up costing more than it might have otherwise…..

Some people are keen to tick all the boxes on the tourist attractions of the city they are visiting. Maybe I’m boring, but for me I just love sitting in a local coffee shop or bar, having a coffee or beer and watching the world go by!

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Just get it booked! We tend to spend our lives waiting for the perfect time but the truth is there is no perfect time. Figure out where you’d like to go, get your dates in the calendar and book the flight. From there everything else will fall into place! I’m a believer that the worst decision you can make in life is no decision and so I try to be decisive, take risks and jump into things before I feel ready!

Featured affiliated academy: Sarnia BJJ Guernsey

Sarnia Jiu Jitsu bjj Guernsey

Where is Sarnia BJJ Guernsey gym located?
Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

How many people train there?
20-30

Is the gym growing – if so by how many new members each month or year?
It would be but for COVID-19!

What are the highest and lowest belt grades training?
Black through to white.

When did the gym open?
2018.

Please tell us the story of how your gym came into existence:
I returned home from London and wanted a Jiu Jitsu experience I couldn’t find elsewhere on the island, so I decided to try and create it.

Tell us about the people that train in the gym – who are they?
We have a great mix: we have young and old, women and men.

 

Some facts about you:

Name: Adrian
Age: 36
Belt: Brown
Gym: Sarnia BJJ Guernsey
Profession: Jiu-Jitsu teacher
Years in BJJ: 9
Other martial arts: Kickboxing in the past
Currently living in: Guernsey
Originally from: Guernsey

Why do they train?
We have students who train as a hobby, students who train for self defence, students who train for exercise, students who train for mental health, students who train for professional skills, and students who train for sport.

What are some of the challenges of running a BJJ gym in general and in your location specifically?
I think the biggest challenge by far is getting people through the door, and to come to enough lessons that they “get it”. Jiu Jitsu is so good that, with the right culture and teaching, people will fall in love with it. But trying to get people who’ve never heard of Jiu Jitsu to come and lie on top of a stranger is difficult. Guernsey is a little behind the times, and so the barriers here are probably even greater than they are in many places.

BJJ Guernsey

How do you see the future for BJJ in your area?
It’s going to be amazing. Jiu Jitsu is unheard of for most of the islanders. It’s going to be great to see the benefit it can do for the community.

What’s the best thing about your gym?
How committed all the students are to making a positive environment which is inclusive and fun for all. I have been to many gyms which are great if you are a certain type of person or practitioner, but I think it’s a real testament to our students that whether you are shy, non-physical, and new to Jiu Jitsu or confident, strong, and experienced you’ll have a great time.

What would you recommend Globetrotters to see in your area apart from the inside of your gym?
The beaches, the cliff paths, the beautiful island!

Thanks for sharing with us! If you’d like to pay a visit to Sarnia BJJ Guernsey, you can find them here.

Featured Traveller: Valérie Jean

Age: 33

Belt: Purple belt 4 stripes, turning pink

Profession: Immigration officer

How many years in BJJ: 6 or 7 years give or take with injuries and forced breaks

Other martial arts: Started with being bullied, so I was mostly on the receiving end as a kid. Did Muay Thai for a few years in my 20s, then discovered BJJ and never looked back.

Where do you live: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Where are you originally from: A small farm town about 20 hours east of Montreal. I’m a native Quebecker (French Canadian).

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I am now technically a citizen of Kazakhstan.

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
The people, the culture, the language, and the universal aspect of BJJ. I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and it was normal for me to look up gyms when away. I’ve lost count of the number of academies visited in total, but it’s probably around 60 or 70 in the past 5 years.

Tell us about your most recent trip and your upcoming trips – where have you been and where are you going?
I started the year with a big Southeast Asia trip. I left Hanoi (Vietnam) by bicycle and went all the way down to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It was the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and it was also the long Têt Holiday in Vietnam. Many academies were closed because of the celebrations, but 3 of them actually organized big open mats after being contacted and informed of my presence in town.

I then abandoned the bike and traveled through Cambodia. I was able to train there as well. My cardio was off the chart after the Vietnam cycling trip. I finished my trip in Thailand, where I trained at Bangkok Fight lab. My flights kept being cancelled or randomly postponed – I was fortunate enough to find places to live and to feel supported by the people there at the gym. Every day was uncertain. I finally managed to fly through Beijing (China).

I came back to work for about 2 weeks. Working at an international border was quite fascinating at that pivotal moment. On my first day back, I went to my US border mail box to pick up some packages, and I was taken away and put in quarantine by USCBP officers. I started to realize how time had stopped for me in Asia and how things were being taken seriously back home.

In March, I flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan, to train with some women in a private BJJ gym. All my flights were cancelled or moved on my way here – it was a disaster and I remember being in Switzerland thinking “what am I doing here, I think I’m gonna crack”. I have to say, it was worth it, and I don’t regret having a mini meltdown as it forced me to dig deep.

Their women’s program had been stopped many months ago for various reasons, such as religious discomfort during mixed classes and overall bad experiences on the mats. So far, it’s been an incredible privilege training here and meeting all those people. I witnessed the smile on all those women’s faces that first day back in a safe space to train – regardless or religion, clothing, or taboo.

This week, I learned that all my flights or routes to return back home next month have been closed by the government. I am officially stuck here. I have contacted my job and they’re trying to figure things out. I’ve contacted my Embassy and not gotten any help yet. I have no return ticket or date. There’s no point in worrying, is there?

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
The food, the warm weather, the people, and the connections. My number one thing is quite personal: how I become so resilient when put in tough spots or uncomfortable situations.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
I’ve trained in some places where women were coming to me and telling me they had been victims of sexual assault, and that it was hard for them to train with certain partners. Sharing my perspective and telling those women that it’s perfectly okay to refuse rolls and establish healthy boundaries in the gym is part of the BJJ experience. Growing as a person and gaining confidence is part of BJJ. I think we sometimes take for granted that BJJ is a hobby or a sport, but for some people in certain parts of the world, it’s a way to survive and to feel empowered.

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
How open and welcoming people are. How trusting and generous they are the moment you contact them. It still blows my mind to this day.

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
A budget traveller with certain standards. I like my hot water, AC, and somehow reliable wifi. I like to plan in advance to limit costs. Right now I’m learning that overplanning means nothing when there’s a global pandemic.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Just go. Message academies. Ask them for tips and places to stay. Don’t make it ONLY about training. And wash your hands.

Featured affiliated academy: Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Singapore

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Singapore

Where is Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Singapore located?
The gym is located in Singapore. The exact address is 326C King George’s Avenue, King George’s Building, 208567.

How many people train there?
Roughly, we have around 40-50 kids and 50-60 adults at the moment.

Is the gym growing – if so by how many new members each month or year?
It’s growing, slowly but surely. Our target is 150 members in total, around the same number of kids and adults. After that we will open a new branch or move to a bigger facility.

What are the highest and lowest belt grades training?
Our lowest belt is white, of course, and the highest is brown.

When did the gym open?
The gym started in early 2016.

Some facts about you:

Name: Vladimir Popovic
Age: 30
Belt: Black
Gym: Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Singapore
Profession: BJJ coach and PE teacher
Years in BJJ: 10
Other martial arts: Black belt in judo
Currently living in: Singapore
Originally from: Serbia

Please tell us the story of how your gym came into existence:
One guy from Australia started the gym, in cooperation with Singaporean partners. After 3 years, he decided to go back home to Australia, and gave me the honor of continuing his legacy.

Tell us about the people that train in the gym – who are they?
Our gym has people from 4 to 70 years old. It is a very international community, with students from the US, Australia, Ireland, France, Russia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines… Children are mostly local Singaporeans, while adults are more a mix of expats and locals.

Why do they train?
Our gym is recreationally oriented when it comes to adults, and most of them train because of quality socializing, health awareness, fitness development, fun, and self defense. Kids are a bit more competition-oriented, but fun and socialization are also their primary goals. And not to forget – character development (which is more my task as a coach).

What are some of the challenges of running a BJJ gym in general and in your location specifically?
I didn’t find any challenges so far, except this virus. This is deadly for us, absolutely the worst possible thing for a contact sport like ours. Other than that, nothing really. People are very nice and grateful, and it’s a pleasure working with them.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Singapore

How do you see the future for BJJ in your area?
I reckon that Jiu-Jitsu has great potential in Singapore. Martial arts here are very popular, especially BJJ and Muay Thai. OneFC has its headquarters in Singapore, so Singapore is like a centre of martial arts in Asia, I would say.

What’s the best thing about your gym?
Lovely people and friendly atmosphere.

What would you recommend Globetrotters to see in your area apart from the inside of your gym?
Singapore is one of the most popular tourist places on the planet, so there are many things to see here. The famous Marina Bay Sands hotel, the gardens by the bay, the botanical garden, the airport of course (the best airport in the world), Orchard Road, Sentosa island, little India, Arab street, Chinatown, many nice parks, many temples and so on and so on.

Thanks for sharing with us! If you’d like to pay a visit to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Singapore, you can find them here.

Featured Traveller: Daniël Bertina | Jiu Jitsu

Daniël BertinaDaniël Bertina – Photo by Kevin Kwee

Age: 4 decades of excellence. I’m aging like fine wine (or vinager…)

Belt: Black belt 1st degree. COVID-19 undermined my promotion to 2nd degree. I blame the Chinese biolab. Let’s hope I don’t get demoted once this madness ends.

Profession: Writer, journalist, and critic working in art, culture, and media. Creative translator and language specialist for several voiceover studios that deliver content for streaming platforms (I try to turn funny US cartoons into funny Dutch cartoons). I am also working on a BA in primary education, because the youth need saving…

How many years in BJJ: 20 years and change.

Other martial arts: Judo and Japanese Jiu Jitsu. I started training around age 5 or 6. In the Netherlands, the judo federation (JBN) has a “fighting system” competition style of Jiu Jitsu, which kind of looks like a blend of karate and judo. I did that and got my black belt under the JBN at age 18 (if I recall correctly). Also trained Capoeira and Wing Chun a few years. And did a bit of Muay Thai – you kind of have to, if you’re from Holland.

By the way, if you are confused about the terms “Dutch”, “Holland”, and “the Netherlands”, this video will be insightful.

Where do you live: Culemborg, the Netherlands. A small 700-year-old town, south of Utrecht, roughly 1 hour from Amsterdam. Home of the guy (Jan van Riebeeck) who founded the Cape colony, which ensured the Dutch ruled the planet for a while. I’m sure there’s probably a statue of him being torn down somewhere as I write this. We live in a strange simulation.

Where are you originally from: Hamsterdam, formerly known as the city of sleaze, now the place of dwelling for hipster dorks, scumbag expats, Airbnb profiteers, people who like to pay a lot of money to live in a closet-sized “apartment”, and segway-riding tourists high on shrooms falling into the canals.

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: I am a better cook than your mom. I was a long-time meditator, but I fell of the horse. I am a #hardcorekidtrainingbjj. I can eat an apple in 30 seconds. I like to drink kvass. I like gardening and growing plants.

Daniël Bertina

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
For a while, work allowed me to travel to strange places to do interviews. I always brought a gi along. That’s how I met The Great Blonde Dane (Graugart). He said he wasn’t feeling well, and that he still had a cold. When we rolled at his gym in Copenhagen, he proceeded to play possum at first, then suddenly he attacked me like I’d just ran over his mom. He likes to do that, I noticed. I got violently guillotined a few times. Somehow, we became friends after that. He invited me to teach at the first (or second?) BJJ Globetrotters Camp, and I’ve been on board ever since. Work also took me to Hungary, Russia, the UK, Germany, and some other places, and I always found a spot to train. Trying not to let strangers strangle you in a foreign country is the best way to experience it.

Tell us about your most recent travel and your upcoming travel – where have you been and where are you going?
I have two kids and I’m super busy now, so I don’t travel a lot. Hopefully I’ll teach at the next Estonia Camp. I was there last year and the place is glorious. I also taught two seminars at my friend Jorgen Matsi’s gym, Vôimla, in Tartu, which was excellent. Hope to get back. I love the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Good folks, good food and drink, good stock.

Photo by @vins_jitsu

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
I hate it with a passion. It’s a stressful hassle, and I detest waiting in airports, surrounded by crowds of imbeciles sneezing into their hands. I just like hanging out with good folks, and I’ve met a bunch of them at the camps. I have to endure the travel nonsense so we can hang out properly.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
Once, I stood next to an obnoxious boomer at Heathrow Airport, waiting on our luggage. The same green suitcase did five laps past us. By lap six, he suddenly realized the suitcase was (in fact) his, then tried to grab it clumsily, but stumbled into another group of boomers and knocked them over like bowling pins. I was overwhelmed by emotions.

Also, my friend Alex picked me up from my Moscow hotel once and drove me far, far, far out into an extremely posh neighbourhood (“Putin has a house there…”), where we trained at a super high-end gym. After training he poured me a glass of kompot, and I ate the best borscht of all time.

Daniël Bertina Jiu Jitsu

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
People that enjoy full contact martial arts are insane across the board.

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
Yes. I don’t like to waste money on nonsense. Don’t eat or buy anything at airports. Bring your own food. Ask the local BJJ geeks where you eat, and where you should go to get a true sense of the place. Stay clear of tourist traps and boomers on electric bikes. Also, travel light (carry-on only).

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Realize gym enforcers exist for a reason. Don’t start none, won’t be none.

A big thanks to Daniël Bertina.

Training Report: MK Team Paris (France)

On a sunny Saturday morning, I hopped on a TGV from Luxembourg Gare Centrale around 5am heading to the city of love, Paris. Although it was an early morning, I have always fantasized about the city, and I could not wait to arrive and explore it myself. Knowing that the next couple of days would be filled with crème brûlée and macarons, my first stop before the pilgrimage to the French capital was MK Team Paris.

mk team paris

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City
Paris, the capital city of France, is a global center for fashion, art and culture, which inspired countless artists and musicians throughout the centuries. Home to world famous attractions including Notre Dame, Arc De Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower, Paris is a dream come true when it comes to art and architecture. With every corner of the city decorated with Parisian apartments surrounded by the charming French cafés, there are endless reasons to visit Paris again and again. From its world famous French cuisine to a wonderful insight into French culture, Paris deserves its place on everyone’s bucket list.

Overview
Established in April 2017, MK Team is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (JJB or Jiu-Jitsu Brésilien in French) academy headed by Olivier Michailesco who received his 3rd degree Black Belt in BJJ from Flavio Behring. The academy’s name was derived from Professor Michailesco’s nickname, Mako. The club initially started by renting a place at an MMA academy, but now it has established its position in the French BJJ community with over 350 students and 25 affiliated academies throughout France over the past few years. Although the academy has grown in size, the family-like atmosphere and spirit has been well-preserved in its culture.

When I reached out to the team via Facebook, one of the black belt coaches, Claire-France Thévenon, kindly invited me to the academy for a training session. On a sunny Saturday morning in Paris, I had the pleasure of training under the head coach, Professor Olivier Michailesco. As mentioned previously, with the MK Team’s rapid expansion, the mat space was completely full of eager students and their energy despite being an early morning class. Although I did not speak any French except “Je ne sais pas” which means “I don’t know” in a horrible French accent, fellow students and instructors were kind enough to provide me with a comfortable training atmosphere, and everyone was eager to help me understand the complex techniques of the day. I was surprised by the number of black belts present on the mat, and the level of training was self-explanatory.

With its family-like training environment and top-notch Jiu-Jitsu training partners, visiting MK Team Paris was one of the highlights of my weekend trip (besides all of the French pastries). Paris is a beautiful city with no time to waste in sightseeing and shopping. However, I will assure you that your visit will not be a waste. Thank you, Professor Michailesco, Professor Thévenon, and the rest of the team for welcoming me to Paris and the MK family. Until next time!

Location & Facility
The gym is located on the east side of Paris. With its well-established public transportation, you can easily reach the academy from anywhere in Paris. However, I would recommend you plan ahead given the massive size of the city. The facility includes a clean blue mat space for training and locker rooms for men and women. (Google Map: Link)

Schedule

MK Team Paris offers classes everyday in the mornings and evenings. The academy’s most recent schedule is posted below:

  • Cours de base — Basic Class
  • Tous niveaux — All Levels
  • Cours avancé — Advanced Class

Visitor Pass
A one day pass is €20, but the passes are also available for longer terms (€60/week and €120/month)

Website — Click here

Tourist Attractions

  • Eiffel Tower — Without a doubt, the Eiffel tower (La Tour Eiffel) is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. With its breathtaking architecture, the Eiffel Tower leaves you speechless. Although it was originally designed as the centerpiece for the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889, the tower remains as a symbol of Paris to this day. A visit to Paris would not be complete without seeing the iconic Eiffel tower.
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral — Located next to the picturesque Seine river, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is considered a Parisian icon. Although it remains closed until further notice due to the unfortunate fire in early 2019, Notre Dame carries the title of most visited monument in Europe as one of the oldest cathedrals in the world. With its stunning stained glass windows and structures, Notre Dame is often regarded as one of the greatest Gothic cathedrals. Let’s hope to see this beautiful cathedral back soon!
  • The Louvre — As the most-visited and the largest museum in the world with nearly 10 million visitors per year, the Louvre is another historical monument in Paris. The building was once home to French Kings, but the Louvre was converted to a museum during the French Revolution. With its sheer size and vast collections, you can literally spend days in the museum.
  • Shopping — Undeniably considered as the Fashion Capital of the world, Paris definitely has its own style. From Chanel to Louis Vuitton, the city is home to the most influential fashion designers. If you are into shopping and have some $$$ to spare, the shopping experience in luxury shops and also adorable local boutiques is without comparison.

I would like to thank Professor Michailesco, Professor Thévenon , and the rest of the MK Team Paris for their hospitality!

Featured affiliated academy: Pui O’hana Grappling

Pui O'hana Grappling

Where is the gym located?
The gym is in Lo Wai Tsuen, which is a village in Pui O on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. If you remember that movie Contagion where the local Hong Kong guy kidnaps Marion Cotillard and takes her to a village. It’s near there.

So it’s not your typical idea of Hong Kong. We are a 5 minute walk to the beach, surrounded by hikes, paragliding and little surf shops/beach bars.

How many people train there?
We were getting close to about 20 regulars split between the kids and adults. This was before the whole Covid-19 thing started. The gym has quite a few expats so at any session we would have people from all over the world training, different languages and cultures just meshing together. It’s quite a sight to see.

Is the gym growing – if so by how many new members each month or year?
We were. And we hope to be soon. Right now the government has shut down all the academies to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. When this is all over we really hope to have a lot of new members. Our goal is to get the kids in the village to train and create a nice Jiu Jitsu community here in Pui O.

What are the highest and lowest belt grades training?
Highest rank is brown, lowest is brand new no stripe sub-human white belt :)

When did the gym open?
We opened last November. It was the perfect time to open a gym, right before a huge pandemic broke out 500 miles away and the government shut down all the gyms…<🤦🏻facepalm🤦🏻>

Some facts about you:

Name: Alika Wong
Age: 38
Belt: Brown
Academy: Pui O’hana Grappling
Profession: Airplane pilot
Years in BJJ: 10+
Other martial arts: MMA, judo, some wrestling
Currently living in: Pui O, Hong Kong
Originally from: Wahiawa, Hawaii, United States

Please tell us the story of how your gym came into existence:
We opened the gym as a way to give back to the kids in the community here on South Lantau Island. The cost of living, and the cost of gym membership, is so high here. We noticed that kids don’t get into Jiu Jitsu because it’s just too expensive. So we started a donation only gym. Now if anyone says they want to learn Jiu Jitsu they can’t use cost as an excuse. You just lazy!

We have kids and adult classes now. Our coaching staff consist of two former Division I athletes, a Pro Muay Thai and up and coming MMA fighter, and me – the guy who can catch Pokémon with both hands simultaneously.

Tell us about the people that train in Pui O’hana Grappling – who are they?
We have a pretty diverse group of people at the gym. Being in Hong Kong, it’s a huge melting pot of cultures. We have Hong Kongers, Americans, Canadians, Filipino, French, Irish, Russian, Aussies, Pakistani, I’m sure I’m missing some. It’s really cool to see how everyone interacts with each other with Jiu Jitsu being the common language.

Why do they train?
Some have aspirations to fight/compete professionally. Some come to work out and learn a new skill. But the one group of people that have a really special place in my heart are the parents who put their kids in Jiu Jitsu then decided they also wanted to learn. They had no interest to learn Jiu Jitsu at all, but when they saw their kids getting into it they wanted to share that experience with them.

As a parent myself, this is the one piece of advice I wish I could tell new parents. Whatever your kids get into, do it with them. It gives you a common ground to talk to them. When they grow up you will always have that bond. And it’s really fun choking your kids!

What are some of the challenges of running a BJJ gym in general and in your location specifically?
Right now it’s the Covid-19 and government shutdowns. But that’s hopefully a short term problem.

In general in Hong Kong, I think it’s that Jiu Jitsu is just not a known thing. A lot of people here know about traditional martial arts and Muay Thai/boxing. But Brazilian Jiu Jitsu isn’t very well known. It’s very different for me because I grew up in Hawaii where we had Relson Gracie spreading Jiu Jitsu in the early 90s. Everyone in Hawaii knows what Jiu Jitsu is and knows someone that trains. I have found myself explaining what Jiu Jitsu is a lot more than I expected.

I am hoping to help change this though. Jiu Jitsu is really exploding here, and I can see some high-level competitors coming out of Hong Kong in the near future.

How do you see the future for BJJ in your area?
Hong Kong is at a very pivotal time right now when it comes to Jiu Jitsu. Let me explain. Back, back, back when Jiu Jitsu was first starting to grow, it was dominated by Brazilians. I think one of the major factors was the language barrier. A native Portuguese speaker wasn’t able to communicate the intricacies of techniques to a non-Portuguese speaker. So an English speaking/non-Portuguese speaking student wasn’t able to understand as well as them and didn’t learn as fast.

I remember the first instructionals I had from Brazilians were just English dubs, “push here, pull, grab, see, tap.” Like yeah ok, then me and my simple-minded, single-language-speaking friends would get together and try to figure it out.

Remember the first time you saw that Robert Drysdale DVD?

Or Ryan Hall.

That was a game changer. I understood those techniques before I even drilled them.

Having an instructor that speaks your language just elevates the game so quickly. When the US got our first wave of American black belts is when we finally had instructors that could teach us in our own language. There was no lost in translation. The students of these black belts are the killers of today.

That’s what’s happening in Hong Kong right now. There are local black belts who are able to explain Jiu Jitsu to Hong Kongers. And these students are going to be the most competitive Jiu Jitsu athletes Hong Kong has ever seen. It’s a very exciting time for Jiu Jitsu in Hong Kong.

What’s the best thing about Pui O’hana Grappling?
Standard answer, but it’s gotta be the people. The people make the gym. We have some hilariously outspoken kids and some very shy ones. But they all help each other. We have serious competitors and complete novices. People from all over the world. We still BBQ in front of the gym, watch UFC together, and just all get along great. I’ve learned a ton about the world just from talking with the people here. And I’ve got to share my favorite American holiday, Thanksgiving, with a few locals. For those that don’t know, it’s eat, sleep, tell stories, eat more, drink, eat, eat dessert all day.

What would you recommend Globetrotters to see in your area apart from the inside of your gym?
There is so much history here it’s a great place for tourists. Check out Kowloon, see the Bruce Lee museum, ride the Star Ferry, tram up the Peak. Eat some street food, check out the night markets, hit up LKF. Ride a ferry to Lamma Island, Cheung Chau or Peng Chau. We are on Lantau Island, so you can take the gondola up Ngong Ping, see the Big Buddha, and check out Tai O village.

We have a bunk bed in the gym, so if anyone wants to check us out just let me know. You can spend a night or two and we can show you around our village, take you surfing, go on some hikes.

Thanks for having us in the newsletter! It’s an honor. BJJ Globetrotters till the wheels fall off!

Thanks for sharing with us! If you’d like to pay a visit to Pui O’hana Grappling, you can find them here.

Featured Traveller: Jenn Carson – Yoga teacher, librarian and author

jenn carson yoga

Jenn Carson Yoga

Age: 38

Belt: Blue, with some stripes, if that matters

Profession: Library Director, Author, Yoga Teacher

How many years in BJJ: Three and a half-ish

Other martial arts: Yellow belt in kickboxing when I was in high school, does that count? I also belong to the Woodstock Boxing Club, but I’m fairly rubbish at it. Have you seen how skinny my arms are?

Where do you live: Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada

Where are you originally from: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: I’m a physical literacy researcher. You can check out my work at Jenn Carson website www.jenncarson.com.

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
I travel to teach people about physical literacy and to improve my own. I live in a small town where there isn’t much opportunity to train Jiu Jitsu, so I travel to take seminars and experience different gyms’ cultures. Currently the nearest BJJ gym is an hour away, so I train with friends on borrowed mats in my basement. I like bringing the BJJ friends I make while I travel back to my small town to share their knowledge with the handful of training partners I have here. I share things I’ve picked up while I’m away, even though I probably forget 99% of it. I feel like Indiana Jones bringing home treasure and bruises.

Tell us about your most recent trip and your upcoming trips – where have you been and where are you going?
This is hard to talk about due to the pandemic. I’ve had to cancel all my travel plans, which I was really looking forward to. I was supposed to present at a writer’s conference in May, teach yoga at the Arizona and Maine Globetrotters camps (which will hopefully happen later in the year… if not, next year), possibly train in Ireland in the fall, go visit a Globetrotters friend in Reno, go see a bunch of cool concerts with my kids and friends (I’m a major music nerd), take my kids on an amazing adventure this summer in the Berkshires (mountain range in the Northeastern US), give a keynote presentation at a library conference out west… all of which likely won’t happen now. Not only have I lost money over this, the anticipatory magic has died. I feel guilty and indulgent for being sour, because I’m healthy, my kids are healthy, we have food and shelter, we are safe and loved. And I’m totally privileged to be able to even have that sort of itinerary in the first place. It’s not so bad, but it still sucks. I think it is okay to feel conflicting emotions at the same time.

My most recent trip, before they closed all the borders (even between Canadian provinces), was in early March. I went to try surfing – for the first time – in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of southern Nova Scotia, as it was hovering near zero celsius, during a nor’easter with five and six foot waves. In a holey wetsuit. I figure if you are going to try something new, the best time is under the most impossible, frustrating conditions, because each time after that will seem so much easier and more enjoyable. Like starting an open mat rolling with the most grizzly, show-offy, pent-up purple belt you can find. After that, getting your ass handed to you by a graceful black belt, or being patient with someone who is just learning, comes more naturally. It also really teaches you whether or not you like something or someone quickly. If you can enjoy a person or activity at their worst, you know you are invested for the long haul.

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
At home I am very busy. I run an extremely active library, I participate in a number of sports, I am a single parent to two small children, I teach yoga and coach self-defense classes, I write books and do research, I grow a large garden and have chickens, etc… Travelling forces me to pause all that plate-spinning and just let myself focus on the task at hand: navigating a new environment. Ironically, I get a lot of good ideas for future research projects or artistic explorations when I slow down like that. So when I get home I have to be careful not to jump into seven new things to make me feel like I’m “making up for lost time” while I was gone.

Travelling also gives me a greater understanding, and therefore an increase in empathy, for how other people live. It also helps me appreciate what I have at home. I design and sew clothing for myself and my family, so I love seeing how people in different cultures dress. I love architecture and looking at buildings. I love being in different natural environments and learning about the flora and fauna. I can just look at things all day long.

Because my children are young and I don’t have a partner, I often travel alone. This is a wonderful break, because I don’t have to be responsible for anyone else for a few days, or even talk to anyone, except when ordering food, or at shops, or while training, or working (I often present at library conferences on the road). But mostly, I can just spend time looking and listening and… being. My nervous system takes a big sigh of relief. But I’m also very grateful to get home to “my people.” Introverts still need their humans.

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
For the last few years at US Globetrotters camps, I have been the in-house yoga instructor. I’m also a positional therapist and will often give talks about that. I don’t go to a lot of the parties and social events around camp. I mostly show up, teach yoga, train all day, have fascinating one-on-one conversations, ask (probably annoyingly super-technical dumbass blue belt) questions, and then go back to wherever I’m staying (alone) to unwind from all the stimulation. People often approach me to help them with an injury, or to ask advice about their yoga or meditation practices. These connections last long after I come home from camp, as people continue to stay in touch through social media and keep me updated on their progress. I’m not the person at camp wearing an outlandish unitard or rallying everyone to do shots (but I appreciate the entertainment factor of those who do!). I feel like I offer a friendly, helpful, maybe even knowledgeable presence, and that makes me feel good about my work. And I benefit so much from everyone sharing their Jiu Jitsu knowledge with me. I like feeling physically and mentally full and exhausted at the end of camp – it is time well spent. And, of course, sharing knitting tips with Eric Bydairk.

Jenn Carson

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
I am normally a very conscientious packer and planner when travelling, but last year, on my way to a writing workshop on Deer Isle, Maine at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, I did something really stupid. I stopped at a gas station about three quarters of the way on my four-hour journey to fill up. I was in the middle of the Maine woods heading for the coast. I went to grab my wallet to go inside to pay and realized…I didn’t have it. I had my passport, which is how I got through the US-CAN border crossing, but my wallet was nowhere to be found. I dug through my hatchback looking everywhere and then had a horrible sinking sensation as I saw in my mind’s eye how it was sitting on my windowsill at home, near the door, where I put it so I “wouldn’t forget it.” I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had no credit cards, no cell phone, no driver’s license, no health insurance card… nothing but two crumpled Canadian five dollar bills in my pocket, which wasn’t enough to pay for more than a couple packs of gum – if they’d even take my worthless foreign currency. I pictured myself selling ass on the side of a backwoods road to an old fisherman with no teeth and a smelly dog. I used my yoga breathing to calm my panic and that’s when I remembered I had a baggy of American change in the glovebox from camping trips with the boys. I dug it out and cried with relief to find eighteen dollars (!!!) of change. The boys always make fun of my “trash wallet”, but because I hate carrying change in my pockets every time we make a purchase in the US, I just throw the change in an old zip-top baggy and it has accumulated over the years. They were always mortified when I used it in stores. I ran inside and paid for my tank of gas with pennies and dimes and quarters. I had enough gas to either turn around and head back to Canada and retrieve my wallet (and be very late for my weeklong workshop) or else drive to the school but be stranded there with no gas to get home. I decided, as is my usual pattern, to do the hardest, most challenging thing. I figured I had an hour of driving ahead to formulate a plan.

When I arrived I immediately sought out the school’s office manager, explained my situation, and asked if there was a computer with internet access I could use and if it was acceptable to have a piece of mail sent to the office. She said it was, and told me, “Don’t worry, you aren’t stuck here, one way or the other we will get you home”. But I didn’t like the idea of accepting help from strangers. I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone and was deeply embarrassed of what I’d done. I ran to the school’s tiny library with its dial-up internet, to slowly log into Facebook and message my best friend – who was visiting his brother in upstate New York – and ask him to mail me some concealed cash and just hope it got to me in the middle of nowhere by the end of the week. He agreed. Luckily I’d prepaid my room and board using a credit card, so I didn’t need to worry about eating or accommodation. I could settle in and focus on writing poetry, which is why I was there. I didn’t even tell my roommate I was completely broke. When everyone went to town to visit galleries and farmer’s markets, I’d take long walks in the woods or swim in the frigid Atlantic.

Near the end of the week, there was a group exhibit for which we needed to buy supplies at the school’s store. I suggested alternatives to the project that did not cost anything, which was met by indifference from my classmates. So I quietly explained my situation to the professor and why I couldn’t participate in the group project. This was overheard by another classmate in the dining hall. The student said, “Is that why you haven’t signed up for the lobster dinner?” (a tradition at the school). I insisted that no, I just didn’t need a lobster, as I’m from the east coast and could get them at home. He told me he was buying me one. I balked and argued. He laughed and signed me up anyway. Again, I didn’t want to be a burden on strangers, but he wanted to help and he needed me to let him. He told me stories of losing his wallet or passport while travelling in foreign countries and how other people had helped him. It was a moment of shared humanity. He said, “I like how you are flawed but also not afraid to still be a challenging human.” My professor told me to buy anything I wanted at the supply shop, and if I needed anything else during my stay to let him know. I silently vowed to mail them both a thank-you present (and cash) when I returned to Canada (which I did). Every day I checked the office anxiously to see if the mail arrived, and it finally did near the end of the week, with enough American money to get me home, and also buy me some lunch on the way. I was overjoyed with relief. It was enlightening to watch how uncomfortable depending on others made me.

My roommate, who was supposed to leave a day early, decided to change her plans and was worried about how she was going to make it to the airport since her ride was no longer available. I told her it was no problem, I’d drop her off at the airport on my way back to Canada. She was so happy and thankful, she told me she’d pay for my gas and lunch on the way in return. I was incredulous. Here I was, in the middle of the woods, with no wallet, and now I suddenly had more money that I’d ever need to get back home, with a lobster dinner in my lap, all because I’d taken a chance that it would all work out and I’d figure it out as I went. I was shaken by how deeply generous and caring humans can be, and how – like Christian Graugart often remarks – a stranger might just be a friend I hadn’t met yet. It renewed my trust in humanity. And gave me a deep lesson about how perfectionism is overrated. People still like me even when I fail. It’s okay to make mistakes.

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
I guess it depends on your idea of “cheap.” When I fly somewhere I rarely rent a car; I usually walk, bike, or take public transportation. I do this because it is cheaper, it is better for the environment (to help offset my guilt from flying), and because it lets me see more of the local culture. I also like the challenge of figuring things out at street level, especially when I don’t speak the local language. I also hate navigating traffic in unknown places. Other people’s driving terrifies me. I often stay in hostels or rent rooms from people, rather than in hotels – again because it is cheaper, but also because I get more of a feel for the place. A generic chain hotel looks the same almost everywhere. I rarely shop when I travel, except for unusual art supplies, books, or interesting things for my kids or friends. I try to find a local seamstress or fashion designer and purchase one piece from them. That is sometimes my most extravagant cost, besides the flight. But I have built a very interesting and exotic wardrobe because of it. It feels like visual storytelling when I get dressed, knowing where all the articles came from, who made them, and how I felt when I bought them.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Just once, to challenge yourself, try travelling without a cell phone. I don’t have one, and never have, and so it makes for a really wonderful and sometimes maddening experience trying to navigate the world without technology in your hand. But it is also amazing, because it forces you to really be present when you talk to people, to rely on them for help and kindness, and it takes you out of your self-absorbed, seemingly self-reliant bubble. You appreciate how interconnected we all are. And you look up and see things you would miss if you were staring at a phone. It also means I don’t take pictures when I travel. My memory becomes my camera. I have to really look at your beautiful face so I remember it. I have to pay attention because I’ll never get to live in this moment again.

A big thanks to Jenn Carson!

Featured affiliated academy: Legion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Where is the gym located?
Legion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is located in Tbilisi, Georgia. Currently we’re located in a judo academy in the Dighomi area, but our location will most likely change soon.

How many people train there?
Currently we have around 45 people actively training in the academy. We are a growing team with many BJJ practitioners visiting from around the world, all year long.

Is the gym growing – if so by how many new members each month or year?
We’ve had over 200 members since opening last year in May. The vast majority of them really enjoy it and wish to become part of our team; however, contrary to popular belief Jiu Jitsu is not for everyone after a certain period. Therefore the core team is growing at a relatively slower pace than the total numbers would suggest. Currently we have 5-6 new people signing up every month.

What are the highest and lowest belt grades training?
The highest ranked student I have is a purple belt, and of course lowest belt training is a white belt. Currently most of our team is comprised of white belts, but I expect a lot of them to be blue belts by the end of next year.

When did the gym open?
Legion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu opened May of 2017.

Legion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Some facts about you:

Name: Alexander Umantsev
Age: 37
Belt: Black
Profession: Information Security Specialist / Entrepreneur
Years in BJJ: 11
Other martial arts: Boxing, Kali
Currently living in: Tbilisi, Georgia
Originally from: Israel

Please tell us the story of how your gym came into existence:
In 2017, me and my friend, partner, and student Temo Mamatsashvili were introduced to each other by an American purple belt, Kevin Meyers. Temo had been training BJJ In London at the Roger Gracie Academy, and had been looking to start a BJJ program in Tbilisi since returning, since there was no real Brazilian Jiu Jitsu team in Georgia at the time. For those reasons it was pretty much a no-brainer for us and we decided to open Legion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and try our hand at developing the sport.

Tell us about the people that train in the gym – who are they?
We have team members from all walks of life, as you often see in BJJ gyms around the world. We have everyone from 14-year kids with achievements in mind to 40-year-old businessmen who want to train martial arts and get in shape.

Why do they train?
They came for a combat sport, but stayed for Jiu Jitsu and its unique trait of uniting everyone; all while being a legitimate martial art.

What are some of the challenges of running a BJJ gym in general and in your location specifically?
Besides the challenges that come with running every business, in Georgia the hardest part of running a BJJ gym is the fact that it’s a completely new and unfamiliar sport/martial art in the country. Furthermore, in Georgia martial arts are usually considered as being relatively cheap sports, because sports like judo and wrestling are usually funded by the government. Therefore, given the fact that BJJ is obviously not funded by the government, we have to run it like a business and it does require some adjustment in the public opinion.

How do you see the future for BJJ in your area?
We have done a lot of ground work so far, and I wish to proudly say that there is and there will be Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Georgia. We have a lot of talented guys training with us, and more are joining everyday. Georgia has an amazing pedigree and history in wrestling/grappling sports, and there’s absolutely no reason why BJJ will be any different. I predict that in the years to come Georgia will have very formidable competitors at various belt levels internationally.

What’s the best thing about your gym?
In Legion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you can get a high level of coaching and a beautiful atmosphere to which all of our members contribute. All our experienced visitors truly enjoy the atmosphere in our academy and the level of skill present on the mat.

What would you recommend Globetrotters to see in your area apart from the inside of your gym?
Georgia has amazing food, nature and history. I recommend that people see different landmarks around the city, but the Old Town is a must. Visitors can also travel from Tbilisi to the mountains for sports in the winter and to the seaside in the summer.

Thanks for sharing with us! If you’d like to pay a visit to Legion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you can find them here.

Josephine GroundFighter Linz

I miss BJJ

I haven’t posted in ages, but I see neither have many others (for those reading in the far future, note: COVID-19). Many gyms around the world have closed temporarily, but I’m sure there are fight club arrangements going on somewhere. 

Just going to get to the point real quick. I’ve been back home in Toronto, Canada since mid-March. Over here, we’ve been in a state of emergency ever since. We’re supposed to ease restrictions mid-June if they don’t push it again. Yes, as the country slowly opens back up again (keyword: slowly), what have YOU learned over the last few months?

Because this was what learned.

  1. BJJ Deprivation is a real thing. I’ve been dreaming a lot about going to any gym, putting my gi on, squatting on the balls of my feet and grabbing thick cotton. Alas, just a dream. I’ve even worn my gi at the dinner table one evening.
  2. Don’t suppress. Release in another way. Okay, so it’s obvious that I’m going insane. Raise your hand if you are, too. I’ve begun doing yoga, attending live HIIT workouts on Zoom, joining stretching classes… find another way to release your stress that you’d usually release with a chokehold.
  3. …It’s okay to not porrada everyday. 2020 has been… it is the year no one wanted but perhaps, something everyone needed. I feel like as the years passed, people became busier and busier. But enter 2020, they just threw down a large sign that said, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE STOP FOR ONE MINUTE.” Society teaches us to ‘go hard’ in all aspects of our lives – at school, at work, do your best, or don’t even try at all, ‘go hard or go home’. Getting out of the mindset of having to porrada in every aspect of my life has been one of the most difficult things, but frankly, I think it is worth the effort discarding.
  4. You are not alone. It’s not like you’re the only one who’s held up at work for many evenings, preventing you from going to training. No, a majority of people are in the exact same boat. Unless you live in a BJJ family. Then maybe you can train together and actually dominate the gyms when they re-open.

So, I’ve been meaning to document my last few BJJGlobetrotter adventures – I remember my last day of any BJJ was March 10th in Stuttgart, Germany. Long story short, I had a job where I got to travel to create content. My first leg of travels started in Europe. As a result, I ended up dropping into numerous gyms, meeting so many new training partners and friends. Here’s a quick glimpse into my list:

Ireland

First stop, Ireland! I started there in January. But I had visited not too long prior, back in August 2019. I knew which ones I wanted to drop into (hint: read this).

Portugal

My next stop was Portugal, and I dropped into Five Elements JJ – Rato. What stood out to me was their inclusion of self-defense in their training sessions. It taught me that if I were ever equipped with a stick-like weapon in my hand, I would probably still lose any battle seeing that I don’t actually know how to strike properly.

UK

It’s been a dream of mine to roll in London. I know there’s a bunch of great schools, and thankfully I was staying quite close to London Fight Factory, so I got to try out a couple of classes there. I couldn’t travel with my gi, only borrowing/renting as I went along and praying that no-gi classes would fit my schedule.

The Netherlands

Team Agua in Rotterdam was super welcoming, and also the first place I’ve been where it was a shared gym space where they were laying and packing up mats every class. I had good conversations with a few people who were about to compete in their first tournaments. Speaking of which, I wonder if they ever got to do that, or if timing was too tight and COVID canceled everything.

Linz

So the paid Google ads are working really well for Groundfighter Linz. They pop up on top when you google “BJJ in Linz.” I don’t think it was hard to rank for top keywords, since there’s not too many gyms in the area. But it was great to see so many people come out and train!

Vienna

Of course, WOM (word of mouth) works. That’s how the BJJGlobetrotters community continues to thrive. The guys up top ^ told me to check out Science of Jiu-Jitsu. When I visited, it was their grand opening week!

Stuttgart

Falcões-Top-Team gi and no-gi was my final drop-in. They also share gym space like Team Agua in Rotterdam, but the mats are permanently put in place. Of course, little did I know that when we took these photos that this would be one of the last BJJ photos I’d be taking for the time being. Thank you for being so welcoming, everyone!

Anyways, til next time. I’m excited to write future post-COVID-19 BJJ blog reflections. How will our new normal look like?

Featured Traveller: Jorgen Matsi from Estonia

Jorgen Matsi

Age: 37

Belt: Black

Profession: I’m a personal coach / counselor in a CRM software company called Pipedrive.

How many years in BJJ: 16

Other martial arts: Aikido for a few years before starting BJJ and MMA at age of 20 back in 2003. Parallel to BJJ I’ve trained quite a lot of MMA and related combat sports (wrestling, judo etc).

Where do you live: Tartu, Estonia, where I’m the head coach of Võimla (literal translation: The Gym) – the oldest official BJJ and MMA club in Estonia.

Where are you originally from: Pärnu, Estonia

Other fun or curious information you would like to share: Still to this day, I like to secretly think that one of the main things that inspired Graugart to start this awesome camps project after his around the world trip was how awesome the big BJJ & MMA Summer Camps I put on in Estonia were (I think Christian took part in 3 of those).

Also, in my MMA heyday I was an actor in an obscure Estonian music video. And you can watch the odd promos we did for the biggest MMA event back in the day (subtitled).

Jorgen Matsi

Jorgen Matsi teaching in Estonia

Tell us what inspired you to travel and train?
I don’t know, it came really naturally. I was part of the group that kickstarted BJJ and MMA in Estonia, so to learn and develop myself I also had to travel, since YouTube didn’t exist back then :D Nowadays when I’ve again done a few international camps again (after dedicated 5 years of raising small humans) it’s just my favourite type of vacation away from my day-to-day life.

Tell us about your most recent travel and your upcoming travel – where have you been and where are you going?
My most recent trip was a work-related one to Lisbon (my company has an office there), but I managed to visit 3 different gyms in the 5 days I spent there. I worked during the day and trained in the evening; it was the perfect work-vacation, and all three gyms were super nice and accepting of visitors.

What are the things you enjoy about traveling?
I’m the kind of person that actually enjoys the “everyday vibe” the most. I’m not big on specific sightseeing – I just like to wander randomly around places a bit, spend time with local people and train. All of which is nicely facilitated by doing a small fringe sport which has quite a welcoming community – BJJ :)

Can you give us some examples of experiences you had that makes it worth traveling and training?
Unfortunately I’m kinda boring in that regard – I’ve just enjoyed spending time with people I’ve befriended and with whom I still communicate online even when we might not actually see each other for a few years in between common travel locations. To me, connecting with other people with whom I, by default, share the love for BJJ yet in comparison to whom I’m often a very different person with a different history – that’s the most enjoyable thing. Also, I first played real live DnD in Heidelcamp last year :D

Jorgen Matsi early competition career

What has so far been the most surprising experience for you when traveling?
I learned a hard lesson on how to not be a douchebag and got choked unconscious for the first time in my life. In 2012, me and my wife were visiting Amsterdam (this was also the time me and my wife first met in real life our wonderful friend and fellow Globetrotter Daniel Bertina). In addition to visiting Carson Gracie BJJ, we also visited R-Grip, the home gym of female MMA pioneer Marloes “The Armbarian” Coenen whom I was and am still a fan of. I was a purple belt with 9 years of MMA and BJJ and coaching experience so there were definitely some ego-demons I hadn’t conquered yet – yes you can say it – I was cocky.

The nogi BJJ class was taught by R-Grip head coach Roemer Trompert, and it focused on a front headlock series which included the famous Matt Hughes choke over Ricardo Almeida. I had seen the fight and thought it was somewhat of a fluke. Hughes had freakish strength and Almeida slept on it (pun intended) not taking urgency to defend. So I didn’t think it was something that could be systematically replicated by average people on someone who has decent awareness and choke defence (and that would include me of course).

So Roemer came to us and asked how we were doing and I said something like “Yeah I don’t think that’ll really work.” He was super polite and said he’ll demonstrate on me, and I was like “Alright, I’ll let him put it on me and then casually defend.” I remember thinking “Okay, this is tighter than I thought it was gonna be but it’s OK…”. Next thing I remember is feeling super weird and looking up from my back instead of being on my knees and a bunch of worried faces (including my wife and Marloes Coenen herself) looking at me weird. Despite that episode, everyone was still super nice to me, and I had really nice polite rolls including one with Roemer in the end of the class.

Are you a budget traveller – and if so how do you plan for a cheap trip?
I used to be in my 20s, but now I am old and lazy and have a stable income. I’ve done my fair share of sleeping in gyms and couches, and kinda have had enough. I wouldn’t mind it still if other conditions were so appealing, but I avoid it if I can. Food-wise I still like to pack some apples, protein powder, and a bag of nuts in my carry-on luggage whenever I go to travel because I don’t want to get stuck with being hungry in the middle of the night or having fast food as my only option. When I didn’t have to count every Euro anymore, I realized that more expensive flights can sometimes be literally cheaper enabling easier transfers, spending less money on food etc.

If you were to pass on travel advice to your fellow Globetrotters, what would it be?
Contact gyms you’re going to beforehand. You’ll get a good idea in regards to how they are with visitors, and you’re going to have the best time in gyms that are actually excited about having visitors. At the same time – and depending on your goals / level – you might want to sniff out the largest open mats in the area for best rolls. If you’ve got competitive aspirations there’s nothing like competitive rolls with people you don’t know.

A big thanks to Jorgen Matsi for doing this interview!

Training report: 10th Planet Amsterdam (The Netherlands)

If anyone is planning a Euro trip, Amsterdam is always top of the list, and I was thrilled to finally visit the infamous city after 2 years of backpacking. Especially, I planned to catch up with my Dutch friends whom I met in Thailand (Hey Jan, Gaya, Kyra!), and I could not wait for the reunion. Before all the extravaganza in Amsterdam, I had an opportunity to join my new friends at 10th Planet Amsterdam.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for recent updates: @jwwseo

City
Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, is known for its elaborate canal system surrounded by the iconic narrow houses in addition to legacies of the 17th-century Golden Age. Although the city is famed for its well-known coffee shops and extraordinary nightlife, Amsterdam offers way more than just cheap thrills. You can wander the sidewalks by foot or on a bike for an authentic local experience and explore the city of diversity and art through world-famous museums. With village-like charm combined with the cosmopolitan vibe and cultural heritage, the city has grown to become one of Europe’s most beloved and visited cities.

Overview
With its affiliation known for unorthodox techniques and unique warmups, 10th Planet Amsterdam mainly focuses on strictly no-gi Jiu-Jitsu and offers submission grappling classes every day. With my positive experience visiting a 10th Planet in Koh Tao, Thailand, I was excited to revisit another affiliate. The academy was led by Raoul Audhoe and Emad Ahmedin who are purple belts, but do not let their ranks fool you. Both instructors have cross-trained in MMA and other various martial arts and are actively competing in the submission grappling world in Europe. Further, they annually host Amsterdam Jiu-Jitsu Camp that invites famous athletes including Jean Jacques Machado, Masakazu Imanari, and Geo Martinez to this beautiful city to share passion and experiences with other Jiu-Jitsu practitioners from all over the world.

During my visit, I had the pleasure of training under one of the head coaches, Emad Ahmedin, who welcomed me to the academy and its community just like it was mentioned on the website: “Travellers and Drop-In’s welcome!”. The training area was spacious although the facility was shared with various gyms. On a rainy Saturday morning, I joined a class of around 15 students. The gym had a relaxing vibe, and everyone was quick to welcome me and say hello. My training partner for the day, Phillip, who recently returned to Jiu-Jitsu and joined the club, made sure I earned my night-out with a challenging training session. Coach Emad was humorous and engaging during the class and was not hesitant to help out with the techniques after the class even though I was simply a visitor. It seemed that it was not rare for the academy to host visitors and create a friendly atmosphere for everyone.

Amsterdam is already a captivating and charming city filled with history and liveliness to begin with and combining the Amsterdam experience with Jiu-Jitsu is a no-brainer. I would highly recommend paying a visit to 10th Planet Amsterdam for friendly training before exploring museums and coffee shops in the city. I would like to thank Coach Emad, Phillip, and the rest of the members for welcoming me to their city and the world of 10th Planet. Until next time!

Location & Facility
The club is located within the facility called “Amsterdam Training Center” on the south-east side of town. Via its well-established network of public transportation, you can easily reach the academy with a 10-minute train ride from the Amsterdam Centraal station. The academy has 100 square meters of mat space for grappling, and the facility also includes weight training equipment on the side of the training area and locker rooms with showers. (Google Map: Link)

Schedule
10th Planet Amsterdam offers classes every day including morning and evening classes. The academy’s most recent schedule is posted below:

10th Planet Amsterdam

Visitor Pass
10th Planet Amsterdam’s one day pass is €20.

Website — 10th Planet Amsterdam’s Website

Tourist Attractions

  • Nightlife — Although Amsterdam is a small city, from abandoned warehouses to posh nightclubs, the nightlife has different social vibes and cultures depending on the district of the city. The most well-known bars and clubs are located in Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein.
  • Coffee shops — Coffee shops in the Netherlands are legally permitted to sell small amounts of soft drugs for people who are over 18. If that is your thing, this is the place. Just do not be that person asking for a cup of Latte at a coffee shop (like I did).
  • Museums — With over seventy museums around the city, Amsterdam is the museum central of Europe. The Museum District houses the world famous Rijksmuseum, which exhibits incredible artwork of Rembrandt along with many other famous artists, and the Van Gogh Museum dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh. The cultural life is so varied and extensive that there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Big thanks to 10th Planet Amsterdam!

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Sri Lanka (Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Colombo, Sri Lanka — In order to get away from the harsh European winter, I booked a flight to Sri Lanka. My “winter” vacation mostly consisted of immersing myself in Sri Lanka’s scenic beaches and green highlands while eating delicious koththu rotti and sipping the country’s famous tea. Luckily after gaining 10lbs in 2 weeks, I had an opportunity to drop by BJJ Sri Lanka in Colombo to wrap up my trip.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for recent updates: @jwwseo

Country
Sri Lanka is an island country in South Asia. While its coastline is lined with unpolluted sandy beaches, the mainland boasts compelling landscapes from highlands covered in tea plantations to wildlife-rich jungles. With its famous tea and flavorful local cuisines, the reasons to visit this beautiful South Asian country goes on, not to mention Sri Lanka’s more than two thousand years of recorded culture and history. With various sceneries and activities bottled up into a small island, Sri Lanka provides an array of holiday experiences.

Overview
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Sri Lanka is the first BJJ academy in Sri Lanka under the head coach, Tithira Hiranjith Perera, and is currently affiliated with Professor Rodrigo Teixeira. Established in 2016, the academy is one of the pioneers to introduce Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a relatively new martial art, to the country. While training Jeet Kune Do, Coach Tithira had an opportunity to train with Professor Arun Sharma who is now India’s first native BJJ Black Belt and the founder of BJJ India. Subsequently, Coach Tithira was asked if he was interested in starting a BJJ program in Sri Lanka, which he gladly accepted. Shortly after that, Coach Tithira went to Singapore to train under professor Rodrigo Teixeira who later promoted him to a blue belt. Although the academy initially started at his house with a few jigsaw mats, BJJ Sri Lanka has grown with 3 in-house blue belts and more than 50 students with its own training facility.

Given the recent introduction of BJJ to the country and its geographical location, Sri Lanka has rather limited resources for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, that did not stop Coach Tithira from running a successful academy, and he has been going above and beyond to spread the gentle art to his home country including hosting the Invictus submission grappling tournament. Further, one of the ways was to promote and strongly encourage the exchange of knowledge and experiences by combining Sri Lanka’s famous hospitality and Jiu-Jitsu. When I got in touch with Coach Tithira, he welcomed me to the academy with open arms and hosted an open mat for me. With its visitor-friendly environment, I had a pleasant experience with my new friends, and I was happy to share my limited knowledge with them. Coach Tithira even came to hang out the next day with his son!

Sri Lanka is already an amazing country to visit and will remain one of my favorite countries. If you are in Colombo, which you are most likely due to the airport, I would highly encourage you to reach out to BJJ Sri Lanka and enjoy an experience at the academy. I cannot thank Tithira and everyone at BJJ Sri Lanka enough for their hospitality and such a memorable experience. I will be back!

Location & Facility
BJJ Sri Lanka is located approximately 20-minutes away from Colombo’s city center next to the Nugegoda Railway Station. I would personally recommend taking a tuk-tuk since it would be the most convenient way to reach the academy. The facility is located within the martial arts academy called “The Shed”. (Google Map: Link)

Schedule
BJJ Sri Lanka offers classes every day including morning and evening classes. The academy’s most recent schedule is posted below:

Visitor Pass
BJJ Sri Lanka did not charge anything for training. However, it is always courteous to reach out to the gym before your visit.

Miscellaneous — BJJ Sri Lanka’s Website

Travel Highlights

  • Mirissa — Surrounded by palm trees swaying in the sea breeze and turquoise waves, Mirissa, a small town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, is a magical beach town to let the days pass by without a care in the world. From whale watching tours to a handful of notable restaurants along the beach, Mirissa has it all for you to soak up the sun in peace. Don’t forget to take a picture on the famous Coconut tree hill!
  • Ella — Tucked away in the misty Sri Lankan high country, Ella is everyone’s favorite hill-country town with spectacular views. The train ride from Kandy to Ella through the tea plantations and mountain passes are considered one of the most scenic train rides. That’s not all. With its iconic Nine Arch Bridge and stunning 220m tall Diyaluma Falls, many of the Sri Lankan adventures can be found in Ella.
  • Sigiriya — Often referred to as Lion Rock. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress in Sri Lanka. Built on top of a massive column of rock around 200 meters, the UNESCO World Heritage Site has a historical and archaeological significance. It is the most visited tourist destination in Sri Lanka providing unique harmony between nature and human creation. With its spectacular view and the remains of a royal palace on the summit, Sigiriya undoubtedly remains the star attraction in the country.
  • Galle — A city on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka known for the Galle Fort, Galle is a fortified old city in Sri Lanka. With stone sea walls and historical architecture, the city embraces its ancient and colonial past. The Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a living monument, and the city connects European architectural styles and South Asian traditions.

BJJ Globetrotters banned from the IBJJF

A little over three days ago, I received an email from the IBJJF, letting me know that BJJ Globetrotters, as an association, has been suspended from their federation. The accusation is that we have been approving and signing for athletes that have no relation with the signing black belt instructor. According to them, we are going “against the integrity of the martial art and safety of the athletes” since “it is important that athletes train under the overall guidance of a Black Belt professor”.

Naturally, I immediately responded to their email:

  • We sign IBJJF forms for all our members to be able to compete, just like any other affiliation in the world.
  • Our team signing the forms are high level, highly decorated black belts with decades of combined experience in the art.
  • We verify the belt ranks of anyone we sign for with their day-to-day instructors. For black belts, we require rank confirmation from five black belts. Last week, we announced that all members must have verified their belt ranks with www.beltchecker.com, which will ensure even more trustworthiness of their rank, as well as allow us to always keep up-to-date with any controversy around their promotions, should this arise.

This is not different than how pretty much every major BJJ affiliation around the world works. The head black belts who sign the forms for their affiliate academies’ members have, in most cases, no more relationship with the athletes than we do. In fact, our community is very tight knit, as more than 1,800 of our members meet around the world at our camps over 10 times every year. Everyone at all levels train hard, network and make friends. On a regular basis at the camps, I see and train with countless of the athletes I have signed IBJJF forms for. These are people I consider great friends and valuable training partners. Some of those who do not have instructors at home, choose to receive their belt evaluations from the combined opinions of the camp instructors. But apparently this is not enough to qualify as “overall guidance” from my and the other black belts’ side.

At the end of the day, the main difference between BJJ Globetrotters and any other large affiliation is, that we charge no money for what we do.

I have to this date still not received a reply to my email, but all our members’ IBJJF memberships have been abruptly cancelled and we are getting a lot of emails from concerned athletes with upcoming competitions, so we can not postpone this announcement any longer.

I am deeply sorry on behalf of our many hundreds of athletes around the world who are actively competing for BJJ Globetrotters, producing fantastic results at all levels, from white to black belt, from amateurs to professionals. While we are not an affiliation in the traditional (IBJJF-)sense, we ARE a community of highly passionate practitioners who believe that training relationships in Jiu Jitsu should be based on friendship, not business. That everyone should be treated equal on and off the mats. That people should be allowed to train with who ever they want. And that access to competition should not be based on contractual agreements with anyone at the top of an imaginary hierarchy based on pieces of tape on cotton belts.

While IBJJF is a private, for-profit company that can make whatever rules they like, I don’t think anyone should have monopoly on how a BJJ affiliation is defined. For those who agree that what we do also qualify as one, we are in fact the biggest in the world, with more than 750 registered academies. And I’m incredibly proud that we are so many who stand up against common perception of how things are “supposed to be done”. We’re not going away any time soon.

If you are affected by this recent decision by IBJJF, I suggest that you email them directly on ibjjf@ibjjf.com and let your opinion be heard. I’ll keep doing the same for you.

– Christian Graugart